Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Somewhere under the Rainbow: Exploring the Identities and Experiences of Trans Persons

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Somewhere under the Rainbow: Exploring the Identities and Experiences of Trans Persons

Article excerpt

The literature on transgender/transsexual-spectrum persons is limited. Most studies are based on the assumption that trans persons are best understood within rigid and binary definitions of gender and sexuality and tend to focus on diagnostics, medical management and risk factors. Researchers and clinicians may also assume that people who challenge cultural norms of gender and sexuality can be grouped together. Such assumptions about the specific experiences of trans persons can be harmfully incorrect. The goals of the present study were to explore the gender and sexual identities of trans persons, to investigate group differences, and to examine factors that predict better psychological and physical well-being. Participants took part in an online study and provided information about their gender and sexual identity, social support, relationship quality, and mental/physical health. Results depicted diverse gender identities and sexual orientations among trans persons and emphasized that while many challenges faced by sexual and gender minorities are similar, trans persons report unique mental and physical health outcomes. Also, greater social support and relationship quality predicted mental, but not physical, health among trans persons. These results highlight the importance of acknowledging the complexity of trans identities and the key role of social and personal support.

keywords: Transgender, transsexual, sexual orientation/identity, mental health, physical health, social support


If all of us, including transgender people, are to be able to express our authentic selves, as well as to increase our capacity for intimacy and sexual autonomy, a new sexual revolution is necessary. This revolution would entail the collapse of limited, hierarchical models and a move away from reductionist binary constructs of gender and toward the creation of pleasure-based models of sexuality encompassing the wealth and breadth of human desire and experiences (Bockting & Iantaffi, 2008, p. 368).

In Western societies, the concept of gender nonconformity is becoming widely recognized in both theoretical and practical research disciplines. Individuals who reject the rigid two-sex binary system often fall under the umbrella term 'trans,' indicating that they do not identify with their birth-assigned gender and may self-identify or be defined by a variety of terms reflecting diverse and complex identities, (see Tables 1 and 2 for detailed definitions and examples). For trans persons, living authentically may or may not involve physical changes to their body. Indeed, if it was widely understood that there is no "right" way to perform maleness and femaleness, this attitude would create more space for individuals who reject traditional gender norms so that they can live authentically, without fear of judgment and persecution. Exploring gender non-conformity may help facilitate ethical and responsible discussions about trans persons' gender identities as well as their mental and physical health.

Although research on trans persons is growing, it is limited in content and methodology, e.g., many studies are based on small subsets of specific trans identities, they rely heavily on clinical samples, and/or the focus is on diagnostics and pathology (e.g., Asscheman et al, 2011; Dhejne et al, 2011; Docter & Fleming, 2001). Some research studies claim to have comprehensive population samples, including individuals who self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender/Transsexual (LGBT), but sampling may yield few trans persons, if any, who are actually included in the final sample (Blumer, Green, Knowles, & Williams, 2012). For example, one study on the impact of discrimination on access to health care for older gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals, had a sample composed of only 1.5% trans persons; 2 out of a 132 participants (Jackson, Johnson, & Roberts, 2008). …

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